While the words may not come naturally to his lips, the president of the United States is talking openly these days about the creation of a Palestinian state. In his address at the United Nations, George W. Bush made clear that two states -- one Israeli and the other Palestinian -- should one day stand side by side in the Middle East. Colin Powell talks and acts as if the Palestinian declaration of independence has already been signed; and the media is abuzz with Palestine's imminent creation.
Nevertheless, the creation of a Palestinian state at such a time, involving the current Palestinian leadership, will do nothing to bring stability to the region. It will not assist the United States in its campaign against terror. It will not bring peace. Instead it will promote further war, instability and suffering.
Each of the concerned nations and populations in the region has something to lose.
For Israel, the prospects are frightening. Despite years of attempted peacemaking, the evidence from the Arab world is that rejection of Israel's right to exist remains as resolute as ever. In fact, the armies of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, bolstered for years by a massive infusion of American military aid, have upgraded their offensive capabilities to suspiciously high levels. The establishment of a hostile Palestinian state, within miles of Israel's major cities, eclipses the Jewish State's vital warning time for a potential Arab invasion and the minimum space its reserves require for mobilization. It opens up a front that starts 10 miles from Tel Aviv and reaches 1,000 miles deep across the Arabian Peninsula to Teheran. Pinning hopes on a buffer regime that has failed to do even the minimum to curtail incitement against Israel or whose children's textbooks preach jihad against the Jewish State seems the height of folly.
For the United States, a Palestinian state also represents an unwarranted leap of faith. Already confronted in the region by rejectionist states such as Syria, Iraq and Iran, it can count on adding a fourth if the state of Palestine comes into being. Continuing a policy of state terror, its military adventurism will initially be directed not against Israel, as might be expected, but against neighboring Jordan, whose population is 80 percent Palestinian. In concert with Syria and Iraq, Yasser Arafat's Palestine will attempt to topple the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan, completing the PLO's aborted coup of 1970 and purging the region of its remaining moderate, Western-oriented Arab state. Thus engorged, it will then have considerable muscle to turn on Israel with a full military assault. This will leave the United States with a vast swath of the Arab world implacably hostile to the West, and a fertile breeding ground for terror.
The Palestinians, after their initial euphoria, would also soon find little cause for further celebration. Arafat has done nothing to strengthen the Palestinian economy in preparation for statehood. No investment in industry, no development of export markets and no commitment toward open trade with its most natural trading partner, Israel. Poverty will remain the lot of most Palestinians for the foreseeable future as billions in foreign aid are creamed off by the Palestinian elite to finance personal empires. Governmental development will almost certainly follow the Palestinian Authority model. The legislature will act as a rubber stamp for Arafat's dictatorial reign; the press will continue as a conduit for government propaganda and the judiciary will be coerced to enforce Arafat's wishes. In the end, Palestinian statehood will only institutionalize graft, corruption and the abuse of human rights -- extending the misery of the Palestinians for years into the future.
If the 1980s was the decade of deterrence, then the 1990s was a decade of illusions. And at the top of that list sat the expectation that Arafat, for nearly a generation one of the world's most high-profile terrorists, would transform into a peace-loving proponent of Western values. The truth is now fairly evident for anyone to see. The West must replace the hopeful, comfortable assumptions of the last decade with tough-minded policies that link rewards of sovereignty to respect for human rights and the adoption of democratic institutions and practices. There are no guarantees that even the adoption of these values will establish global stability. Yet the continued failure to enforce the notion that sovereignty implies responsibility will almost certainly damn the peace-seeking nations of the world to further war, terror and bloodshed.